In the ‘Ramayana’, Ravana had abducted Sita, wife of Lord Ram. To rescue Sita, Hanuman led Lord Rama along with his brother Lakshman and army of monkeys, to Lanka. Before his final battle with Ravana, Lord Rama sought the blessings of Devi Durga for defeating Ravana. The Goddess could be pleased only if she was worshipped with one hundred Blue Lotuses.
After traveling and searching the whole world, Lord Rama gathered only ninety-nine Blue Lotuses. He finally decided to offer one of his eyes, which resembled Blue Lotuses. Durga was pleased with the devotion of Rama. She appeared and blessed him for the battle.
The fierce and decisive battle started on the day of ‘Saptami’. Ravana was finally defeated and killed on the ‘Sandhikshan’ i.e. the crossover period between Ashtami and Navami, the next day. The day after on Dashami, Ravana was cremated.
The main ritual of Durga Puja spans a period of four days. However, in case of traditional and household pujas, the festivities last for ten days. Debi-Pakkha is the name given to the fortnight from the new moon till the next full moon.
This is the most propitious time for performing holy rites. The ritual of drawing the eyes on the image of the goddess is called chakkhu-daan. This symbolises the process of infusing the image with the power of vision. This is done on Mahalaya, the day of the new moon.
The main puja starts from Shasthi. This is the sixth day after the new moon. On Saptami, the image of the goddess is infused with life through a process called Bodhon. Early in the morning, the pran of the Devi is brought from a nearby river. The medium is a banana plant. Then it is put inside the image. It called the Kola Bou. The Kola Bou is bathed and draped in a new yellow sarees.
It resembles a newly wed bride. Ashtami is universally accepted as the culminating point of the four day celebrations. It was on this day that Durga had killed Mahishasura.
The ritual of Sandhipuja marks Sandhikshan, the juncture between Ashtami and Navami. The main attraction of Navami is the Maha-Aarati.
It is held in the evening. On Dashami, the image is immersed in a river, and people bid a sorrowful farewell to the Mother Goddess. Then the wait begins for yet another year.
Bijoya is a special ritual. In it peace and good relations are reaffirmed Families exchange sweets and people embrace each other. They vow brotherhood. Bijoya continues till the next new moon. At that time Kali Puja is held.
The images of Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartik and Ganesha are also separately worshipped along with that of Durga. That is the tradition the image of Durga is framed at the centre, and the background behind the whole group is called the chal-chitra. It is a circular canvas of mat containing paintings of heavenly scenes and drawings of other important gods and goddesses.
The community puja is the most-coveted festival in the year. It has transcended geographical boundaries. It has reached every son and daughter of the soil across the globe. The four-day fair is full of splendor and mesmerizing look.
It is too beautiful to be a called a mere festival. It has become an indispensable part of every one’s life. Multinational companies and commercial firms sponsor big community pujas in the city. Such is the charm and seduction of the occasion. Durga Puja in other parts of India.
In Maharashtra, Durga Puja is a fun occasion. Puja is performed each day. Devotees don’t remove the flower garland that is put each day on the idol or image of the deity. After nine days all the flowers are removed together. Young girls who have not attained maturity are invited to eat, play games, dance and sing. An elephant is drawn with rangoli. The girls play guessing games. Then they are fed a meal of their choice.
People of Punjab observe Navratri. Some Punjabis take only mil for seven days before breaking the fast on Ashtami or Navami. The worship Durga Maa and do the aarti at home. Some of them have fruit or a complete meal once a day. Intoxicating drinks or meat and other forms of entertainment are completely avoided. At the end of the fast, devotees feed beggars or worship little girls, who spell the Shakti of the Mother Goddess.
It is one of the prime festivals of Orissa as well. People in Orissa celebrate it on a large scale. Goddess Durga is among the sacred goddess of Orissa.
It is celebrated in a grand way in this state, too. In Mysore Dasara is easily the most popular festival. It is celebrated on a grandiose scale here. Elephants are decked up with robes and jewelry. They are taken in processions through the streets of the city. In fact, many people visit Mysore from all over the country to watch this colorful event. There is also a floating festival in the temple tank at the foot of Chamundi Hill. A procession of chariots is taken around the temple at the top.
Navratri is devoted to Amba Mataji. In some homes, images of Mataji are worshiped in accordance with accepted practice. This is also true of the temples. They usually have a constant stream of visitors from morning to night. The most common form of public celebration is the performance of garba and dandia-ras/ras-garba (a form of garba with sticks). It is Gujarat’s most popular folk-dance. It is performed throughout the nights of these nine days in public squares, open grounds and streets.
In Kerala, Durga Puja signifies the beginning of formal education for every child aged 3-5 years. Puja goes on in the temple for all ten days. However, the concluding three days are really important. Ashtami is the day of Ayudha Puja. That day all the tools at home are worshipped. Custom dictates that no tools be used on this day. On Navami day, Goddess Saraswati is honoured. The books and records at home are worshipped that day.
Thousands throng the Saraswati temple at Kottayam during this period to take a dip in the mysterious holy pond. Its source is yet unknown. Large gatherings are also seen at the famous temples at Thekkegram (Palghat). At these temples, there are no idols only huge mirrors. A devotee finds himself bowing before his own reflection. It indicates that God is within us.
Hindus are a minority in Jammu and Kashmir. But they celebrate their festivals with pomp and show. These days, festivities are subdued, though. The favorite deities of Kashmir are Lord Shiva and Sherawali Maa Durga, the one who rides the tiger. Pundits and Muslims alike vouch that Navratri is important. No big pandals are put up. Each Hindu household does the puja at home. Whosoever wants to keep a fast, does not eat anything. At best they take some water. In the evenings, fruit is taken.
As elsewhere, Kashmiris grow barley in earthen pots. They believe that if the growth in this pot is good, there will be prosperity all the year. Kashmiri Pandits visit the temple of guardian goddess Kheer Bhawani on all nine days. This is the most important ritual for them. On the last day of Navratri, an aarti is held at the temple. After this people break their fast. On Dussehra day, Ravana’s effigy is burnt.